Labour says customers are left ‘hanging on the telephone’ as coalition ‘squeezes’ £56m from premium rate racket
‘Northumberland County Council will scrap premium rate ‘call lines’ as figures show most vulnerable hit by govt. high cost ‘help lines’ – Northumberland Labour
The new Labour administration in Northumberland have revealed that it will reverse the former Liberal Democrat administration policy of using premium rate lines to rake in revenue ‘within the next month’. The authority is in the process of setting up and testing new lines which will allow residents to contact the council on ‘ordinary network rates’.
The move by the council came as data released by the National Audit Office revealed the ‘coalition’ government has raked in an estimated £56m from the use of 084 numbers with the Department of Works and Pensions one of the worst offenders and it also reveals that customers spend an astonishing 402million minutes waiting to speak to an advisor.
Over 208m calls were made to central government customer telephone lines in 2012-13 which 63% were made to so-called ‘premium rate numbers’ usually prefixed 084. 59% of the higher rate telephone lines served ‘vulnerable and low income groups’. Labour have branded this ‘a stealth tax on hard pressed people’.
The calls rake in around 5.6p per minute from a landline but rocket to 17.1p from mobiles. The research also showed that callers spent a total of 880m minutes on calls and an astonishing 402m minutes actually waiting to speak to someone. The Department of Works and Pensions was identified as one of the worst offenders.
The report also criticised the government of not doing enough to reduce waiting times and for failing the most vulnerable callers. It identifies vulnerable and low- income households as most likely to use ‘pay as you go’ mobile telephone deals which rack up significant costs on the 084 lines.
A Northumberland Labour group spokesperson said
‘The government’s own guidelines say these telephone lines should not be used for people on low incomes yet Ian Duncan-Smith’s DWP continues to rake in the profits at a time when people are feeling the pinch. It’s not the job of government departments to seek to make a profit off the back of ordinary people and we’re calling for the government to follow the lead of Northumberland County Council and outlaw the use of these telephone lines for government departments’.